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The Rational Public

Fifty Years of Trends in Americans’ Policy Preferences

This monumental study is a comprehensive critical survey of
the policy preferences of the American public, and will be
the definitive work on American public opinion for some time
to come. Drawing on an enormous body of public opinion data,
Benjamin I. Page and Robert Y. Shapiro provide the richest
available portrait of the political views of Americans, from
the 1930’s to 1990. They not only cover all types of
domestic and foreign policy issues, but also consider how
opinions vary by age, gender, race, region, and the like.

The authors unequivocally demonstrate that, notwithstanding fluctuations in the opinions of individuals,
collective public opinion is remarkably coherent: it
reflects a stable system of values shared by the majority of
Americans and it responds sensitively to new events,
arguments, and information reported in the mass media. While
documenting some alarming case of manipulation, Page and
Shapiro solidly establish the soundness and value of
collective political opinion. The Rational Public
provides a wealth of information about what we as a nation
have wanted from government, how we have changed our minds
over the years, and why.

For anyone interested in the short- and long-term trends
in Americans’ policy preferences, or eager to learn what
Americans have thought about issues ranging from racial
equality to the MX missile, welfare to abortion, this book
offers by far the most sophisticated and detailed treatment

Table of Contents

Tables and Figures
1. Rational Public Opinion
2. The Myth of Capricious Change
3. Opinions about Social Issues
4. Economic Welfare
5. Foreign Policy: World War II and the Cold War
(Coauthored by John M. Gillroy)
6. Vietnam, Détente, and the New Cold War
(Coauthored by John M. Gillroy)
7. Parallel Publics
8. The Causes of Collective Opinion Change
9. Education and Manipulation of Public Opinion
10. Democracy, Information, and the Rational Public
Appendix to Figures


American Political Science Association: Philip E. Converse Book Award

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